Beginnings and Farewells
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
On Thursday evening, February 18, 1835, twenty-seven year old Narcissa Prentiss began her new life. With her family and friends watching, she became Mrs. Marcus Whitman in the local Presbyterian Church. It was also her last day as a resident of Angelica, New York. The very next day, Narcissa and her new husband would leave for their new mission station far away in the Oregon Country.
The ceremony included the singing of a hymn that was popular in farewell services for missionaries. It began:
Many at the wedding ceremony realized that this was probably the last time they would see the newly married couple. As the hymn continued, voices dropped out, replaced by more and more muffled sobs.
By the last verse only Narcissa was singing. Her voice “as sweet and musical as a chime of bells” sang:
Today many may see the word “heathen” solely as a derogatory comment. But in the context of a service for departing missionaries, the stress is more on the fact that these people have not yet been exposed to the word of the Christian God. What better place for missionaries to establish a new mission? One can only imagine the feelings of bittersweet excitement felt by Marcus and his new bride as they set off to follow their dreams.
But first, the new couple would need to travel across the continent to reach their mission station. In her own words Narcissa described this is “an unheard of journey for females.”
Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Did You Know?
The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.